In the next few issues of Food X, I’ll speak with activists, nutritionists and farmers who’ll share insight on the importance of growing food in a just, sustainable way that protects wildlife and the places we love. We’re kicking off this series with Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, who brings her formidable talents to vital lawsuits against agricultural polluters.
Industrial animal agriculture — aka factory farming — includes feedlots and slaughterhouses as well as rendering plants, which use animal byproducts to make things like pet food and soap. Meant to maximize production and minimize costs, industrial animal agriculture causes massive waste and pollution. Besides harming the climate and causing needless suffering for animals, it’s one of the biggest threats to safe, clean water for people and wildlife alike.
Hannah has spent 15 years fighting this harmful kind of agriculture and spreading the word about how it hurts people and the planet. For almost seven of those years, she’s worked in the Center’s Environmental Health program alongside a team of scientists, other lawyers, and researchers, bringing cases against some of the largest meatpackers in the world.
You can help: Tell the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to crack down on pollution from industrial animal agriculture.
Read on for my exclusive interview with Hannah about using the law to strengthen environmental policy and fight factory farms.
Jennifer M.: How does your work link food, farmed animals and wildlife protection?
Hannah C.: Pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss are closely connected, especially when it comes to the food system. My work aims to improve the health of the ecosystems species need to survive. I use the law to slash the food system’s pollution of air, land and water, with a special focus on throttling back the pollution and disease threats connected to the industrial raising of farm animals.
JM: The Center is one of the few environmental groups working on slaughterhouses and rendering plants. How do you use the law to fight for environmental policy in this arena?
HC: I’ve worked on a variety of cases related to slaughterhouses and rendering plants. These cases include helping enforce the Clean Water Act to fighting the lawless removal of restrictions on “line speeds” in pig slaughterhouses. (The faster the line speed, the more pigs can be slaughtered more quickly, and often more cruelly and less safely, too.) I’ve also fought to make slaughterhouses comply with other laws. And I’ve challenged the unjust construction of slaughter plants and rendering plants — which make products from animal-waste materials — in communities of color already suffering from the pollution and other harms of the animal agricultural industry.
One legal win I’m very proud of — which just happened this week — forced the Environmental Protection Agency to agree to update its water-pollution standards for the entire slaughter and rendering industry. That’s super important because slaughterhouses are the largest U.S. industrial dischargers of phosphorous and the second-largest dischargers of nitrogen.
JM: The Center is pushing back against the greenwashing of methane gas harvesting from factory farms as a sustainable climate solution. Can you explain that, and how you’re working for justice on this issue?
HC: Factory farms are trying to rebrand their pollution — including the vast amounts of manure and climate-harming methane gas their livestock emit — using the ecofriendly-sounding term “biogas.” But biogas is a false solution used to justify new subsidies and the unchecked expansion of factory farms — which will cause even more manure pollution and greenhouse gases, while we all pay the price.
To counter that greenwashing, the Center is backing community-led efforts in North Carolina to fight the expansion of factory farm gas projects. For example, we support a complaint that state permitting of these projects unfairly affects communities of color, which is a violation of the Civil Rights Act. We’re also working at the federal level to make sure more subsidies don’t go into the development of factory farm gas production in North Carolina and across the United States.
JM: When it comes to policy and reining in the worst environmental offenders, how are U.S. agencies part of the problem?
HC: U.S. agencies — plus states and the federal government more generally — aren’t doing enough to address this industry’s pollution, cruelty and human-rights abuses.
We recently went to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission seeking an investigation into the industry’s human-rights abuses. The United States, as well as other countries across the Americas, are not only letting existing factory farms dodge necessary regulation and oversight — they’re also actively supporting their uncontrolled expansion.
JM: Thanks for sharing more about your necessary and compassionate work with Food X readers, Hannah.
HC: Thank you, Jennifer!
Learn more about Hannah’s exceptional work on industrial animal agriculture.
Reply to this email or write to me with any questions at EarthFriendlyDiet@BiologicalDiversity.org.
For the wild,
Jennifer Molidor, Senior Food Campaigner
Population and Sustainability Program
Center for Biological Diversity